Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement Fought Repeal

The Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement (WNCLE) was a federation of Protestant women’s groups. It formed in 1922 to promote more vigorous enforcement of Prohibition laws. Organized at both the national and state levels, it claimed membership of twelve million women by 1932.

Note that it is often spelled the Women’s National Committee for Law Enforcement. Even in some of its own documents!

Lucy Peabody & the Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement

Committee for Law
Lucy Peabody

National chair Lucy Peabody (Mrs. Henry Peabody) said that opposition to National Prohibition was rebellion.  She said it was the fourth rebellion against the US constitution since the founding of the nation. She strongly believed that government could suppress opposition. Thus, the country could save National Prohibition.

WNCLE adamantly opposed “any tampering with this momentous reform [of Prohibition], and they used their time-honored tactics of exhortation and statistics, mingling their ideas with religious sentiment in a setting of luncheons and social hours to achieve this end.”1

Congressional Testimony

However, the federation didn’t restrict its activities to social and religious environments. For instance, Lucy Peabody appeared before Congress in 1926. There, she argued for stronger enforcement of Prohibition.

We represent here to-day not only organizations of women, but… we represent the home, the school, the church. And we stand firmly for no amendment to the eighteenth amendment. We hold the Constitution of the United States inviolate. We stand for no modification of the Volstead Act, but rather a strengthening. Also we stand for strict law enforcement. And for the removal of all men who do not strictly enforce the law.

Law Observed

We believe that in… this country the law is observed as well as any law. Having traveled in various parts of this country we did not observe more drinking than ever.

We find conditions vastly improved. Health, as testified to by the insurance companies. Morals, as shown by the statements which will be produced later. And certainly the economic condition, on the word of our Secretary of Commerce, have justified prohibition.

The conditions in States like New York and Maryland, where there is no State enforcement law… are bad.

The only remedy… is to do what the Constitution requires to make the law enforceable. That would remove very many of the offenses which are piled up to prove that the Nation is not appearing to enforce its laws.2

A Good Law

The leader of the Committee continued.

As women, we know the old saloon and the wreckage in homes and lives of boys, men, and women. While the vote for the eighteenth amendment was the vote of the men–it was also the vote of the women….

We… have not done as much as we should have done to see to the enforcement of the law. Perhaps we… trusted too much and needed the awakening which has come.

We are convinced that we have a good law….3

Firm Paternal Stance

Mrs. Peabody then took a paternal stance.

We are not satisfied that the law is being enforced in all places. We are sure it will be when the Nation has had time to adjust itself. In a well-regulated home it is the policy of a mother to work… knowing that perfect obedience requires law and discipline. It is never the policy…to say the children are disobedient. Therefore let us give in to them and let them do as they like.4

Repeal

But more and more Americans saw that Prohibition was highly unpopular. They thought it would take a police state to enforce it. And some leaders, such as Wayne Wheeler, promoted just that.

Also, they thought Prohibition was a failure. But worse than that, they saw it as a disaster. They included organized crime, corruption, and disrespect for law. And the glamorization of drinking, defying the law, and many other problems.

So WNCLE and the other anti-Repeal groups failed. As a result, the 21st Amendment establishing Repeal began in 1933.

Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement

Resources

Archival

WNCLE. Gains in the U.S.A. during Prohibition Period. Reasons Why we Support the 18th Amendment, 1926.

______. Hearing before the Judiciary Comm of the House of Reps, Wash: March 12, 1930. Lucy Peabody testified.

_______. What about the Women? 1931.

Footnotes

1. Everest, A. Rum Across the Borde, p. 129.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.